What do you imagine when you see or or hear the word ‘India’?
I always think about the famous Hollywood movie ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ where we follow Elizabeth Gilbert, featuring Julia Roberts, along the self-discovery journey. I also have a picture in my head of meditation or yoga classes, and I feel that peace and serenity that comes with it. I have to confess that for me India also relates to food – the huge bags of colourful spices, endless of curries and eating with hands. Can you relate to any of that? Or it’s just me being silly? I know that for most of us India brings mixed feelings, and I want tu ensure you that besides all the bright and colorful side there is a splash of darkness that comes with it. For less experienced travellers (like me) it might be difficult and challenging to start the journey. Cultural shock is a real thing and it might kick harder than you think. So I thought I will write this article which might prepare you to face the real India and help you to have a nice and smooth arrival.
Things to sort out before your trip
Flight tickets. We need to know when we’re going, right? Do the research. The earlier you will buy tickets – the cheaper it will be. I look for tickets on skyscanner.com and when I find flights that I’m interested I also go and check some of the companies directly on their websites (I do like to book directly from the company but it’s definitely not necessary).
Travel insurance is a must! Never ever go without it! Even if it’s extra money which you don’t have or you think that ‘nothing will happen’. Believe me it happens when you least expect it. Make sure to protect yourself and your wallet (as you might have to spend even more later).
Visa. Now, going to India you will need to have visa. If you’re planning to spend there 30 days or less you can apply for e-visa online here. Check on their website for the list of countries and nationalities that are able to apply for it (list is pretty long) before you start filling the forms. It costs 25$ (plus bank charges) which have to be paid online.
NOTE – filling this form for e-visa might be a little bit tricky as once your application has been GRANTED you have 30 days to enter the country. That means you can’t apply for it earlier then 30 days till your flight. So here you have two options – apply for it and once you got answer buy flight tickets or buy flight tickets, apply online and pray that you get a permission to enter. I chosen the second option. Still feeling so grateful that everything was ok with it.
To apply for e-visa you need to fill the form with millions of questions about you, about your current situation, reason why you coming, family members and others.
You must have a picture of your main passport page (with all information about you) and you need to upload your profile picture (not your facebook one), which has to look pretty formal – focused on your face, taken in white background, eyes opened, not too dark. Also, have a look and change the size of a picture as it has to be pretty small (I had to resize my pictures ten million times as it was always too big).
Another tip – be patient – you might have to fill the form a few times because the system tend to crash from time to time (I filled 3 times). Also, you might face the problem with paying for visa, online system don’t want to work straight away so you might have to do it again.
Once all of this is done – let’s go to India!
Arriving at Delhi’s Airport
Once you landed you need to follow the crowd towards immigration. If you haven’t got a migration form on your plane you have to fill it up at this moment before lovely officers checks your passport. The form should be smaller than A5 size paper which you will find near the immigration control point. It is not a A4 size paper! We’ve been fooled by our flight attendants as they gave A4 size form on the plane and after waiting in the line for quite a long time we had to go back and fill another one… Nevermind!
Once you enter India (wohoo, that was a very exciting moment for me) go and find your luggage. It probably will be waiting for you on the floor next to baggage track and ready to go.
Getting a bit of cash at the airport is always a good idea. You can change your currency here at Delhi’s airport. Changing euros, pounds and dollars is no problem at all but if you have something else – you should double check online. By the way exchange rate was pretty good so no big loses at all.
Delhi’s airport like any other airports in this world (I might be lying) have a few ATMs available to take some money out. Just keep in mind that the maximum amount that you can withdraw is 10,000 INR (~100£, 120 , 135$). Yep.
Another interesting thing – SIM card. There is a shop near the exit where you can buy the SIM card. The process is very simple and pretty quick even though the queue looks insanely long. You have to fill up a form with basic questions, then the staff take a picture of your lovely face, they put the card in your phone, you give them money and that’s it. It cost around 600-700 INR (~7.40£, ~8.30€, ~9.20$) for 30 days with a lot of data and calls.
You can get a cheaper Sim card for a longer period outside of the airport in any telephone service shop, but I heard that it’s kind of a struggle to get it. You need to get references from a local person, which is super weird.
Another thing why getting a SIM it is an adventure itself is that it doesn’t work straight away. It takes around 12 hours for it to activate and start working (sometimes it might take even more).
STORY TIME! Without connection I ended up getting in 3 scams and arrived in my hostel more than 7 hours after landing. I knew that I will be calling a taxi to reach my hostel, how else can you start your journey safely in a new country? I thought it will be easy – will by my SIM card at the airport and I won’t have any problem to start my journey. You know there is a saying ‘you tell your plans to God and he laughs’… So God laughed. I had no connection on my phone (my card from UK wasn’t working, Wi-Fi required the phone number to send an OTP but my new SIM card wasn’t working!). What I learned – being connected is important especially when you’re alone. Read the rest of the post to find out how to have a smooth journey even without a connection.
IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME – do all of the small things at once while you’re still at the airport (go to pee, buy sim card, buy coffee, get some cash and so on) because once you go out – you are not allowed to go back in. I wish I would have known that before arriving, and before I got out and couldn’t get in (hahahahah that wasn’t funny at all). I had to pay visitors entrance to return, and thank God I was with another girl and she kept an eye on my belongings outside, as you can’t go in with the luggage… Such a complicated situation it was!
By the way I wrote whole Two week Rajasthan guide which starts in Delhi.
Travelling to your accommodation
Wherever you’re staying you need to get to your accommodation. So there is a few options that I would like to mention here as there are quite a few of them.
It would be ideal to arrange airport pick up with your hotel/hostel. That would ensure a smooth and safe beginning of your journey. I think you will agree with me that there is nothing better than that after a long flight. So if your hotel has a pick up option – amazing! If not or if you want to travel independently there are a few things you need to know.
DO NOT USE any government or prepaid taxis! That’s the most popular scam system in India. They are not government taxis, or even if they are, it will bring you loads of hustle and stress at the beginning of your journey. Why do I say that? Well first of all, the drivers are sneaky, smart and pushy, and they definitely know how to recognise the travellers who are a bit lost and use it for their needs. You will be taken to the city but you will hear that your hotel burnt down or closed because of the rain/sun/flood/uragane/protest, or the driver will tell you that they don’t know where your hotel is located or that the street/road is closed there and they have no clue how to reach it or where to go. He might also pretend calling to your hotel and then tell you that you don’t really have booking or it’s been cancelled. Taxi drivers will do everything to take you to travel agency (or basement with a table and chair) and one guy will try to ‘help’ you with the rest of your trip (arranging the best hotels and maybe a tour around the country with a private driver and all inclusive). Believe me, these people are very creative and they know how to convince. You know, everything is fine if you have an internet connection and you can check all info yourself, but if you don’t than it’s a ‘Houston we have a problem’ situation. My advice would be to skip these government or prepaid taxis so you could avoid getting into this trap.
If you have an internet connection – Uber and Ola is a way much better option. Or you can use Meru Cab which is reliable and safe option according to some travellers. They have a separate booking desk outside of the airport. Meru cab is a bit more expensive than regular taxis, but much safer than government ones.
The best and the cheapest option – metro! It’s like 20 metres from arrival exit. Check the lines before your flying to Delhi, save a screenshot and use it when you arrive. Seriously. It’s super cheap and metro system is very very good in Delhi so you will get wherever you need to be.
More information about travelling with trains in India can be found here.
Is India safe country to Travel?
Yes and No. There might be some challenges you will face while travelling in India.
You will always be under the magnifying glass, people notice that you are not local, they stare and approach you more than usual, and sometimes they might get way out of the edge and be too pushy (especially tuk tuk drivers or salesman), they might follow you, ask you for money and you might end up in really awkward and uncomfortable situations. Touts are everywhere around, you will be scammed a few (or more) times.
I think that’s the general tip in any country around the world, but please avoid travelling or walking late at night, especially alone. The streets are very dark and a lot of homeless people are getting out and about at that time and might easily become a walking target to bad people. If you really need to go somewhere at night, try to take a fellow traveller along with you (if it’s possible). Also you could ask in your hotel/hostel to arrange transport for you (that’s kinda safe option because they want their guests feel safe and comfortable). If you need one more option I recommend using Uber or Ola to go to your destination, also pretend that you’re talking with someone and read the license plate loudly or tell ‘I will share my location with you so you would know where I am or when I will be there…’ than the driver will be aware that more people are involved in this and they know where you are (safety first).
If all of this sounds too much – calm down. If you think it’s dangerous to travel everywhere in the world as there are bad people EVERYWHERE. Be smart, use common sense, if it sounds to be good to be true – it’s a scam and you need to run.
If you’re in trouble don’t be afraid to ask for help – Indian people have the biggest hearts in this world and they will definitely give a hand and heart to give what you need.
What to wear in India?
You might already know that India is still kinda conservative country. It’s not only about clothes but also about relationships, lifestyle and all the other aspects of life. Once you’re there you will notice that there is a big gap between men and women (in every sense of the word). Religion is very important to most of Indian people that’s why when travelling here you should consider your clothing pretty serious.
For male travellers it is easy – Indian men wear everything what westerns wear – jeans, shirts, shorts and t-shirts. So don’t worry about that at all.
It’s a bit more complicated for women. In big cities you will see Indian women walking with skinny jeans and crop tops. But everywhere else, most of women are wearing beautiful colourful traditional Indian clothes that we all have seen in the movies – sarees and kurtas over the leggings. What should you wear to blend in? Choose loose and floaty trousers, it will help you when it’s hot and when it’s cold (you can put more layers under it) or wear long skirts, long dresses, colourful long or short sleeve tops. It is important cover your shoulders everywhere you go so if you want to wear vest you can cover your shoulders with sarong or scarf. Showing belly or your back is ok as you will see that traditional Indian clothes do not cover these parts of the body. But as a traveller you will get loads of attention anyway, so do you really want more?
Talking about the beach towns like Gokarna or all of the Goa you don’t have to worry too much. Locals there are used to tourists so it’s ok if you want to wear more open clothes like shorts and mini dresses. But I would recommend to leave your sexy clothes at home and dress up a bit more than usual.
When you come to a new place just try to notice how Indian women are dressed up. If you see most of them covered – do so as well. If you see that some of them are wearing more open clothes – you are also more then welcome to show your skin to the sun too.
Remember that you are not at home, you’re a guest in this country so please do respect their culture and religion.
I hope this post will help you to have a smooth beginning of your journey in India. Exploring new places might become overwhelming when you don’t know where to start and how it is going to be, but preparing for it helps to enjoy it even more.
If you have any questions about India, about travel, about life, spirituality or what kind of sauce to use with your porridge – contact me! I am here to help and I always will be! You can reach me on Instagram @findthelightt or Facebook or Pinterest too!
Send You loads of Love!
Stay adventurous and see you on the road! x